Report: It’s time to think about learning technology as an ecosystem

Ten years ago, the learning technology landscape looked quite different. Your LMS was the be-all-end-all of learning technology, and you had only about 60 different vendors to choose from. Fast forward to today, and we’re looking at a much more complicated story with many more companies offering new and varied solutions to learning and development teams, well beyond the LMS.

Our businesses don’t run the same way they did a decade ago, either. We have new business models that constantly evolve, flatter reporting structures that give employees less room for upwards growth, more connectivity and collaboration between workers than ever, and the ability to put employees in the driver’s seat when it comes to when and where they learn.

That’s why we need to start having meaningful conversations about our learning environments, says a new report from RedThread: The Art and Science of Designing a Learning Technology Ecosystem. The research, sponsored in part by Axonify, dug into the learning systems, strategies, challenges and solutions from 30 learning leaders.

RedThread Research Report

Here’s what we learned.

Start with a core learning ecosystem philosophy

Companies that define a philosophy or strategy are more likely to find success with their ecosystem. How? They focus on enabling and intentionally designing a combination of technologies that give employees the right conditions to learn. The best ecosystems support:

  • Planning future career moves and the steps employees need to take
  • Discovering opportunities for growth and the content that will get them there
  • Consuming the right content, in an easily accessible way
  • Experimenting with new knowledge and practicing new skills
  • Connecting and sharing knowledge between employees
  • Performing to boost on-the-job abilities (and learning from them)

Thinking technology-first limits your ecosystem

It’s so easy to get distracted by the latest technology at the expense of our learner experience. The goal here can be summed up in two key words: “simple” and “seamless.” The first speaks to the need to focus on what will work for and appeal to their employees, even if it means opting for the less sexy but more effective solution that doesn’t try to be everything to everyone. The second addresses the need to overcome barriers cross-company, like:

  • A lack of hardware for deskless employees
  • Limited network access for employees in different locations
  • Firewalls that prevent employees from learning outside the office
  • Unions that prohibit employees from taking lengthy training or training off-the-clock
  • A diverse workforce all with different needs and approaches

Other tech can be learning tech, too

When asked about their learning technology ecosystems, most companies jumped right to technology built specifically for learning and development. But that’s just one of three facets, the solutions purchased only for employee development.

But two other kinds of tech weigh heavily into the ecosystem equation. Adopted tech is the systems your organization already uses for other purposes that can do double duty for employee development (think a business chat tool, like Slack). Enabled tech describes platforms your employees use for learning in their personal lives (think looking up how to make a new recipe on YouTube). Our learning tech ecosystems need to take all three into consideration.

Pay attention to how learning technologies mesh together

RedThread describes three ways to structure a learning tech ecosystem: a single-platform solution where all your learning content lives in one place, a central system that gives employees one point of access but taps into other resources in your organization, and a pure ecosystem where learning happens in all kinds of places without centralization. Think of it like a spectrum that goes from one point of entry to many. The path that’ll work best for your organization will vary depending on what your needs are.

It takes work to make a good thing last

Everyone needs to pitch in a little, from your employees who adopt and use the technology and the IT department that supports it on an ongoing basis to the various L&D teams in your organization and the senior leadership that ultimately needs to buy into the strategy. If something’s not working in that mix, we first need to understand why. We also need to check in on usage to decide what to keep, what we replace and what better solutions we should bring on board instead.

Find out what makes a strong learning ecosystem

What do these tips look like in real-world practice? Want to learn more about designing a learning ecosystem that’s right for your company? It’s all in the full report: The Art and Science of Designing a Learning Technology Ecosystem.

Carol isn’t your typical leader. She’s driving a revolutionary approach to employee knowledge, but she’s also a doors-open, come-see-me-anytime kind of executive. Carol doesn’t just talk the talk—she definitely walks the walk. You can read more from her on Training Industry Magazine, ATD, CLO and as a regular contributor for Fortune.

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